Shotgun Consumerism

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Same same, but different

In my experience, there are two types of people; the perusers and the in-and-outers. I’m going to try to explain the difference here, rather strangely perhaps, so wish me luck.

We all need to go out and do some shopping eventually, whether we enjoy it or not, and we like to think that we know exactly what we want when we make the trip. Now, you get to your destination (let’s say it’s a grocery store, for the sake of the analogy) and you begin to think that maybe there are a few other things you might need, but you don’t know what they are until you see them. So you decide that you’re going to walk through every aisle and pay attention to absolutely everything, on the chance you’ll come across something you didn’t know you also needed.

Sound familiar? If that’s you, then you are what I like to call a peruser. There’s nothing wrong with this, mind you; in fact, there is an unofficial name for what layout designers will implement to make this work out well for you, called “hardware store grouping”. This comes from the commonly used example of how hardware stores are laid out with their product offerings to maximise efficiency on the part of the customer.

Daniel Levitin makes a great case for this in his book, titled The Organised Mind, (which I have reviewed briefly in my recommended reading list) and gives the example of how nails are often grouped with hammers. When we go shopping for a new hammer (because we do that so often) we come across the nails in the same general area and remember that we also need to top up on those and so our “I may as well grab some while I’m here” thinking kicks in and we’ve now nailed two birds with one hammer.

There is a case against this level of grouping, however, as it can sometimes result in an inversion of efficiency. When some items are grouped so similarly that they are almost indistinguishable, we can make errors of judgment that arise from making decisions on-the-fly. We get the wrong nut or the wrong type of hammer (if the above scenario is inverted, for example). This doesn’t always happen, but it is a risk.

In my original example, we were going to the grocery store, and while we might not be looking for hammers and nails while we’re there, we might be looking for detergents and dishwashing liquid. Logic dictates that detergents should be separated from dishwashing liquid, because they are different products for different things. But when we walk down that particular aisle, we are often greeted by both products on the same shelf. Like I said, this isn’t always a problem, because often when we’re buying one, we remember that we should probably top up on the other while we’re here.

This method is kinda like a shotgun blast that ends up catching a whole lot more than what the proverbial gun is originally aimed at. Why? Because you can practically guarantee you’ll hit something. You know you’ll walk away at the end of the day having something to show for it.

Where the problem does come in, however, is when we get to the paying counter and realise our trolley is a tad fuller than we expected. And we look at that receipt when we get home and wonder how in the hell that trip got so expensive. That doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it stings.

The short and sweet alternative

Imagine, instead, that you know exactly what you’re looking for, and you also know exactly which aisles to walk down to find them. You’re in, you go down one aisle, come up on another, maybe do the same one or two more times and you’re out with only a handful of products before the cashier has a chance to close the till.

If that sounds more like you, then you’re what I like to call an in-and-outer. You get what you need and you get out. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t because you don’t necessarily need anything else, but because at the time that’s not what you were looking for.

Why do I bring this up? Well, it’s definitely not because I’m currently waiting in a very long queue to buy a whole lot of grocery products I probably don’t need and will regret tomorrow morning. Actually, it’s because I think that this kind of thinking can apply in many areas of our lives.

The world is fast approaching a state of consumption almost indistinguishable from blinding consumerism, where even when we make a choice to not act on one product we are indirectly making the choice to indeed act on another.

I would, instead, like to make the case for acting like an in-and-outer in more places than just the grocery store. In our homes, on our social media accounts and with the meetings we have right before our lunch breaks.

The world is a fast place, but it’s not going to be slowing down any time soon. So instead of watching it fly by and falling into the cracks it leaves in its wake, perhaps it’s time to learn to be a little faster ourselves.

A little less shotgun, and maybe a little more precision sniper, is perhaps the best trigger we can pull in this day-and-age.

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Zachary Styles

Full-time designer, illustrator and lettering artist. Part time lecturer. Part time student. Experiencing the world through words, both written and drawn.